PRIMESTAR TOUTS ITS FEATURES AS COMPETITION RISES

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Primestar is launching an estimated $45 million TV and print effort to promote the enhanced features of the satellite entertainment service's channel options.

The first of two celebrity and cartoon character-filled TV spots breaks tonight on CBS' "Chicago Hope," with the second to start airing April 20. The spots will run in both network-including ABC's Academy Awards telecast-and syndication programming.

The new campaign comes as Primestar is trying to maintain position in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Just last month, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and Echostar Communications announced a joint venture entry into direct broadcast satellite services.

BOOMING MARKET

"We feel the marketplace is blossoming right before our eyes. We need to make our mark now," said Denny Wilkinson, senior VP-marketing and programming at Prime-star. "This is a very competitive industry; if you're not creating a position in the marketplace now, you won't be here in two years."

The campaign from Adler Boschetto Peebles & Partners, New York, focuses on the new Primestar features available in April. The ads promote expanded channel capacity-now 160, up from 95-organized into 10 umbrella programming categories, including movies, music, news and sports.

TV creative includes cameo appearances from "Ellen" co-star Joely Fisher; actor George Hamilton; Hanna-Barbera animated characters; puppeteer Shari Lewis and puppet Lamb Chop; country music singer Clay Walker; and Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi.

INFORMATIONAL PRINT ADS

Print ads are more informational; they begin in mid-April with gatefold space in April and May issues of magazines including Country America, People, Sports Illustrated and TV Guide.

"The print we're using more tactically, to give an explanation of how [the service] works," said Ray Albergotti, senior VP-management supervisor at Adler Boschetto.

Primestar introduced the U.S.' first national satellite TV service in spring 1994. It now has 1.8 million subscribers and is the nation's No. 2 provider, behind DirecTV's nearly 2.5 million subscribers.

The service spent $150 million on marketing last year and expects to spend an equivalent amount this year. Of the 1997 budget, $50 million will go to national branding efforts via Adler Boschetto; $25 million will go to co-op programs and promotions.

Another $75 million is allotted for local ads and promotions, paid for by Primestar partners that are subsidiaries of Comcast Cable Corp., Continental Cablevision, Cox Cable Communications, GE Americom, Tele-Communications Inc. and Time Warner.

The target audience is residents of rural areas. "The hungrier market is the more rural market," said Mark Dunn, director of national advertising and promotion, who added that such areas aren't as apt to have access to multi-channel choices.

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